Poverty in the United States today has many faces. There’s the pleading face of a middle-aged man on a city street holding up a sign that says “Hungry, Need Help.” There’s the anxious face of a young child in a schoolroom somewhere, whose only real meal today will be a free school lunch. There’s the sad face of a single mother who doesn’t have enough money to buy clothes for her children. And there’s the frustrated face of a young man working at a minimum-wage job who can't afford to pay his rent.
The federal government measures poverty by the numbers. In 2007, the federal “poverty line” was set at $16,530 for a family of three and $21,203 for a family of four (USCB). If a family makes less than those amounts of money in a year, it is officially classified as poor. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 12.3 percent of all Americans were living in poverty in 2006. That equates to more than 36 million people, more than the entire population of the state of California.
Of course, poverty means more than just not having enough money. The Catholic Campaign for Human Development recently interviewed people with low incomes about how being poor feels. Some of the responses were: “Not enough food, unable to buy medicine.” “It means that each and every day is a struggle. It means you have no voice. It means you’re treated differently and unfairly.” “I worry about money a lot, running out of food, our broken car, lack of health insurance for my son.” “Overdrawing bank accounts, getting kicked out of homes for not being able to pay rent.” “No food. No shelter. No hope” (USCCB). These responses show us that, just as there are many different faces to poverty, there are also many different definitions as to what living in poverty feels like. Another part of what makes defining the problem so incredible difficult.
As the U.S. Census Bureau shows, poverty in the United States is also not evenly distributed. It is worse for children...